Russian who helped put Gagarin in space dies at 99
One of the last surviving architects of the Soviet space programme that put Yuri Gagarin into orbit half a century ago died on Wednesday, officials said. He was 99.
Boris Chertok, who helped design the country's first ballistic missiles, was a close colleague of the Soviet rocket design genius Sergei Korolyov who is widely credited for giving the USSR the lead in the early space race.
"He died today at 7.40 am in the morning," spokesman for Russian rocket-builder Energia told AFP.
Chertok was considered one of the last living legends of the early years of human space flight who made Gagarin's trailblazing 1961 flight a reality.
He was a close associate of Korolyov, considered the father of the Soviet space programme, and designed the country's first satellites and spacecraft including the spaceship that took Gagarin around the globe on his historic 108-minute journey.
Chertok started his career at Energia in 1947 and stayed with the company until his last days, working as its chief scientific consultant.
He died just two and a half months shy of his 100th birthday.
Sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first Sputnik satellite four years earlier are among key accomplishments of the Soviet space programme and remain a major source of national pride in Russia.
The country suffered some of its most embarrassing space mishaps in recent months, including the loss of a probe that aimed to bring back soil from Mars's largest moon Phobos.
© 2011 AFP